COTTON, Sir John (1512/13-93), of Cheveley and Landwade, Cambs.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1509-1558, ed. S.T. Bindoff, 1982
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Oct. 1553
Nov. 1554

Family and Education

b. 1512/13, and but 1st surv. s. of Sir Robert Cotton of Landwade. m. Isabel (d.1578), da. of Sir William Spencer of Althorp, Northants., 8s. inc. John 5da. suc. bro. 30 Mar. 1526. Kntd. 2 Oct. 1553.1

Offices Held

J.p. Cambs. 1547-61, q. 1562-4; sheriff, Cambs. and Hunts. 1549-50, 1556-7; commr. relief, Cambs. 1550, oyer and terminer, Cambs., Hunts., Beds., Bucks., Norf., Suff. 1554-64, inquiry into lands of bpric. of Ely 1559.2


The Cotton family had acquired the manor of Landwade early in the 15th century. John Cotton, a boy of four at his father’s death, became heir to this manor and five others in Essex, Cambridgeshire and Suffolk (valued at over £115 a year) on the death of his elder brother in 1526. In the following November Bishop West of Ely paid £300 for Cotton’s wardship, and in 1533 when West made his will he arranged for Cotton to marry a daughter of West’s nephew, a marriage which, so far as is known, never took place.3

Cotton’s early career is difficult to disentangle from that of his uncle and namesake, a former servant of the 3rd Duke of Buckingham, whom in 1538 the nephew sued for 20 years’ income from his family’s lands at Exning, Suffolk, and Fordham, Cambridgeshire, and for the return of deeds. Thus it may have been either of them who was listed among the Cambridgeshire gentlemen summoned to raise troops in 1544, who in 1546 received an annuity of £20 for his war service in France two years before, and who three years later travelled to Scotland on Privy Council business. It was doubtless the nephew, however, who attended the reception at court of the Admiral of France in 1546, and more probably the uncle who as ‘John Cotton of Cheveley’ was sued by (Sir) Edward North in the Star Chamber in the early 1550s. As the uncle is unlikely to have become a justice of the peace, most later references are probably to the nephew.4

John Cotton’s name appears on the list, ascribed to Cecil, naming those who might be hoped to keep order in various counties on behalf of Queen Jane’s government; there is, however, nothing to suggest that Cotton was a supporter of the Duke of Northumberland, and his early knighting by Queen Mary implies the contrary. So does the negative evidence that in the two Parliaments in which he was to sit he was not a ‘marked man’, either as a supporter of the ‘true religion’ in October 1553 or as a ‘seceder’ in November 1554. On both occasions his fellow-Member was a Privy Councillor, his half-sister Bridget’s husband, Sir John Huddleston, whose influence doubtless told in his favour. Cotton sued out a pardon on Elizabeth’s accession and for a while continued as a justice of the peace, but in 1564 he was named by Bishop Cox of Ely as one of those ‘misliked’ for their religion and in 1588 he was listed as a recusant, as his half-sister had been in 1577. After 1564 his only appointment in the county was in 1568, when he became one of the first six governors of John Ray’s grammar school at Cheveley.5

Cotton made his will on 8 Feb. 1593, died on the following 21 Apr. and was buried in Landwade church, where monuments commemorate him and his wife. After charitable gifts and legacies to friends, relatives and servants, he left £100 to each of his two surviving younger sons, £200 to his grandchildren by his son Robert, and the residue to his eldest son John, the sole executor. A verbal codicil made five weeks before Cotton’s death purported to transfer the £200 left to his grandchildren to their father, but was later held invalid; probate of the will was granted on 21 June 1594.6

Ref Volumes: 1509-1558

Author: D. F. Coros


  • 1. Date of birth estimated from age at brother’s i.p.m. C142/45/66; cf. C1/6962/39-41 and C142/33/25. Vis. Cambs. (Harl. Soc. xli), 22; Mon. Inscr. and Coats of Arms, Cambs. ed. Palmer, 98; Machyn’s Diary (Cam. Soc. xlii), 335.
  • 2. CPR, 1547-8, p. 81; 1553, p.351; 1553-4, pp. 17, 28-29; 1558-60, pp. 31, 228; 1560-3, p. 435; 1563-6, pp. 20, 41.
  • 3. Camb. Antiq. Soc. Procs. xxxviii. 5; LP Hen. VIII, iv.
  • 4. C1/962/39-41; LP Hen. VIII, xix, xxi; E315/236, f. 225; APC, ii. 268, 276-7; St.Ch.2/32/5.
  • 5. Lansd. 103, ff. 1-2; APC, v. 106, 150; CPR, 1558-60, pp. 31, 228; 1566-9, p. 157; Cam. Misc. ix(3), 24; Cath. Rec. Soc. xxii. 120; Lansd. 55, art. 58.
  • 6. PCC 53 Dixy; Trans. Cambs. and Hunts. Arch. Soc. iv. 211; Pevsner, Cambs. 422.